Freshman could be go-to foot of future

With another Neal Kitson shutout brewing, one goal was all St. John’s needed Sunday night against Virginia Tech.

They ended up getting three, but that first goal speaks volumes about the young talent on this 5-0-1-soccer team.

Fresh off the bench in the first half, Nelson Becerra approached the flag to take St. John’s fifth corner kick. The junior midfielder looped the serve into the middle of the box, where freshman Cristian Gonzales was waiting, loading up. Gonzales fired a one-time volley out of the air into the back of the Hokies’ net for his first collegiate goal.

The 888 boisterous Storm fans in attendance were just introduced to the future – and possibly present – St. John’s goal scoring phenom.

“Cristian is a natural goal scorer,” head coach Dave Masur said.

“He’s going to become an unbelievable player at St. John’s. He’s a very young man and he’s got some natural abilities; we just need to find ways to have him grow and understand this game that he’s involved with and still use his talents to help our team.”

The energy and passion Gonzales brings to the game has Masur optimistic about the young core on his squad. Gonzales immediately showed that passion after his shot crossed the goal line.

“It feels great, man,” Gonzales said. “I was so pumped up because of everyone [Red Storm fans] behind the goal. It’s very exciting. Any freshman scoring a goal is just great.”

Gonzales ran directly to Becerra, who was credited with the assist, and hugged him. The whole sequence sped by, Gonzales said, and ended with a celebratory embrace.

“To tell you the truth, nothing goes through my head,” he said of the corner kick. “I just focus on hitting the ball because the lights are in your eyes, the fans are screaming and the defenders are pushing you around.”

Big East defenders might be seeing a lot more of Gonzales in 2008. He has had limited minutes this season, including only 16 on Sunday, but his intensity has made those minutes count.

“I expect some more minutes not because of the goal, but because I’m going to be working harder,” Gonzales said. “It’s going to be tough because there are a lot of older guys and we have six forwards trying to battle it out.”

No one knows more about goal scoring this season than Adam Himeno. His team-leading three goals and nine shots have paced St. John’s in their first six games. And now Himeno embodies another Red Storm trait.

The junior forward started wearing a captain’s armband in Friday’s match against Boston University. He wore it again on Sunday and might be wearing it all season along with senior Rory Quinn.

“I guess I’m one of the leaders on the team,” Himeno said. “I’ve been here for three years now. I take some responsibility for the team now and for myself.”

Masur’s decision to send Himeno out with the green band was not based solely on his goal scoring. The 18th year coach was impressed that Himeno was one of the only guys to be at St. John’s working out all summer long. But his knack for scoring doesn’t hurt.

“He works hard and he sees things that others don’t,” Masur said. “He scores with his feet, he scores with his head, he changes directions very well. He finds a multitude of ways to score.”